15 Minutes With: Doug Edmunds

BY NICOLE BELL  |  PHOTO BY LAURA DIERBECK

As you enter Cedarburg’s Edmunds Studios Photography, it’s impossible not to notice the framed Andy Warhol photo hanging above the sofa. 

Doug Edmunds, who co-owns the studio with his wife Teri, was just a few years into a career change from art teacher to photographer when he embarked on a six-year mission to shoot some of American pop culture’s best-known figures, landing time with Ella Fitzgerald, Allen Ginsberg, Lily Tomlin, Andy Rooney, Aaron Copeland — and Warhol himself. Edmunds knew his assigned 15 minutes with the icon were special, but he didn’t know then how they would factor into another rare opportunity many, many years later. 

Before Edmunds picked up a camera for the first time, he was an art education major at UW-Madison. The budding artist built an impressive light sculpture for one class and hired a photographer to commemorate the project. The results, he says, were unimpressive.

“They were just terrible,” the Madison native says of the images. “So I went down to Chicago … bought a camera, one lens — one big, wide-angle lens — and I started taking pictures of this thing. I’d never had a class in photography. It was just a tool to photograph what I considered my real art. It wasn’t long after I started using the camera that I really, really liked it.”

Edmunds started collecting the additional equipment he needed to become a professional photographer, a collection that he says never stops growing.

“I edit everything. I had to learn sound. I had to learn post-production editing. It’s a whole other world. Learning never, ever stops,” Edmunds says, adding that he even became a licensed Federal Aviation Administration remote pilot to shoot commercial work with a drone.

Edmunds spent two years gaining experience as a photographer when the idea for his first exhibition, “Citizen,” inspired him to photograph 80 Madison residents from all walks of life. The show was a success, compelling Edmunds to ask those 80 locals if they knew someone famous. And then he was off.

 “It was just a passion,” Edmunds explains. “[People asked,] ‘Why did you spend six years running around photographing these people?’ I said, ‘Well, I’m going to have an exhibition.’ I had no idea where. I didn’t know how. It was just the challenge of tracking people down and lugging my equipment [across] all of these major cities, sleeping in my car and camping in free campgrounds trying to get around the country, and sleeping on people’s floors to get to do this stuff. It was a lifestyle.”

In 1981, the commissioner of cultural affairs for The Metropolitan Museum of Art offered Edmunds the opportunity to photograph Warhol. He admits it took a bit of work to secure time with the famous artist. When he finally got his chance, he was allowed just 15 minutes with the originator of the notion of “15 minutes of fame.” 

“He’s a very, very strange one,” Edmunds confirms of the counterculture legend, who let the photographer dictate his poses and said very little. “He’s very, very shy from what I found out. I didn’t know all that much about him. I knew all about his art, because I studied him. … I called the exhibition ‘Fifteen Minutes With Andy,’ because that’s what it was.” 

When those 15 minutes passed, the artist simply got up and left, leaving Edmunds with a collection of stunning black and white portraits — and the start of his exhibition.

Bolstered by the experience, Edmunds settled in New York City, where he and Teri expanded their photography and graphic design business, and their family too. After a few years in the city, they chose to move back home, putting down roots in Teri’s hometown of Cedarburg and focusing their business in the Milwaukee area.

And then, nearly a year ago, an email arrived. “[It said] ‘you’ve been invited to the [17th annual International Architecture Exhibition],’” Edmunds recalls. “I said, ‘What is this?’ I thought it was spam.” 

It wasn’t. It was the chance to participate in an ultra-exclusive contemporary art exhibition in Venice, Italy. 

“I say this without hyperbole: It is probably the most prestigious art exhibition in the world,” Edmunds says. “To be invited to that, they don’t get any bigger than that.” 

To finance his participation in the renowned event, Edmunds unearthed those Warhol portraits, printing and selling the exclusive images to art enthusiasts in the Milwaukee and Madison areas, and via three Florida exhibitions scheduled for February 2020. A few of the photos are now on display at the Museum of Wisconsin Art and the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. 

“[These prints are] the flavor of the month for me right now,” Edmunds muses. “I’m really marketing this nationally, and people say, ‘How come it took 38 years for you to start showing these things?’ I said, ‘Have you ever tried to start your own business from scratch in New York City and have two babies in diapers?’ … People are really fascinated. They’ll say, ‘Why’d you wait so long?’ and the simple answer is simply this: It’s time. There’s a time for everything.” MKE

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